My mommy, my idol for life often says, “Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set.”


At 11 years of age, I only understood that the meaning must be profound and only the word ‘exam’ resonates with unwanted echoes in my ears. In a CBSE course, I am in the sixth grade and unit tests, half-yearlies and final exams are the bane of my life. Through the lockdown, dates of approaching exams was the only thing that made me feel like running away.


I am passionate about art and playing and of course, I love watching television. I secretly love watching all of Nani’s (Maternal grandmother) Hindi serials. I make up stories around the actors and then pen the stories around my paintings. Making picture stories is something I can go on and on doing, for ages if mommy would let me. But then the word “exam” pops up out of nowhere and my stories lie incomplete.


I have an older brother. He is 21 years old and studying in Germany for the last 3 years. We used to fight, a lot, like Tom and Jerry and I would normally win. I don’t know which I am?…… Tom or Jerry? ………………but since Jerry always wins, I would choose to be him. On the other hand, I hate being tiny, especially since my brother is a whopping 6 feet against my 3.5 feet. So, I like to keep that option open for the time being till i reach my full height. (hopefully 6 feet too)


My brother likes to say that though the pictures in my stories are lovely, my stories themselves are absurd and it took me a long time to find the meaning of that word in the dictionary and when I did find it, we had a massive pillow fight where I won again.


Life, as an exam, for me, began when I overheard my Nani telling someone on the phone that my mummy had cancer and may not live long. She also added that they were keeping the news a secret from my brother till he finished with his studies and was worried as to what would happen to me.


I come from a broken family. We have been living with my maternal grandparents, away from an abusive father for almost 6 years now. My mother is fighting for a divorce (an ugly word that has lost me many friends in school) and the right to bring me up without any interference from my father. My father’s family does not want a girl child and that is why she had walked out of a 17 year old marriage, literally in the clothes she was wearing.


In court my father had fought for custody for my brother till he turned 18 but clearly did not want me or want to support me. I was bewildered for a little while because I had loved him a lot but the pain in my mummy’s eyes and the tears that seeped into her already wet pillow in the night when she thought I was asleep made that love go away in some dark corner of my paintings.


My brother, though admittedly a prime “fighter cock” loved me a lot. He had refused to meet my father because of his treatment towards me just because I was a girl. I remember he had said and I quote, “Me and my sister are a package deal; either you get us both or neither of us!” So, my father had changed his legal tactics and was now trying to get my custody. He knew my brother would automatically return to him if he had my custody. And my poor, penniless mommy, was fighting a losing battle in the family court since. (and now she had cancer to contend with too!)


I had also overheard Nani saying that if mummy had to go away to heaven, I would have to go back to my father till I was 18 years old. That thought was so scary………, scarier than the next exam. Have you ever wanted to cry but no tears came out, so you just stare blankly into space with burning eyes while feeling your heart break into a million tiny pieces? That is how desolate I felt. And when I am sad, I paint……. I paint my darkest fears and my fondest dreams.


That night, I opened my favourite picture story book of the three peacocks which had originally involved 4 beautiful peacocks (I know peacocks are males but a fantasy can have a mama peacock and a baby girl peacock too and mine did! ) I had started drawing this book before we separated from my father. The earlier images still had 4 peacocks in it, one of them representing my father. But over the years, the peacocks had dwindled to just 3, me mommy and my Big B! I decided to complete it for mummy.


As my crayons flew over the blank white sheet, a dark ugly image developed where one peacock was in far away Germany and the other was flying to heaven, to leave the last baby girl peacock (ME) alone with tears rolling down her cheeks very similar to the ones rolling down mine and making my pictures quite wet…….. (Luckily I was drawing with crayons.) I could almost imagine the fourth peacock with red eyes and thunder in the background returning to my story and not wanting to draw it, shut my eyes tightly and tried to go back to sleep.


I think my mommy must have found my picture book like that next to me the next morning before I woke up. My pain always pains her and she must have sensed not just my pain, but also my fear of the future. She stinks at drawing; she, paints more beautifully with words but to dispel my nightmares, she had valiantly tried to complete my picture story with a very poor but a painting with extreme clarity, indeed. And it didn’t matter that it looked like a baby’s scrawl! It was breathtaking and so beautiful for me; it put everything so right, that the aesthetic appeal (or lack of) of the artwork just didn’t matter anymore.


The sheet next to my dark thunderous painting was bright and full of happiness and sunlight. The three peacocks (bunch of sticks and circles that did not much resemble a peacock) were together…………. bound together with garlands of flowers that resembled hearts. The mother peacock had a bandaid on her head, but the other two had suitcases labelled Germany …….one of the suitcases had my name and the other was labelled “BRO-DAD”.The three peacocks were outside an airport and no tears rolled down any cheeks in this happy picture.


As the storm burst in my heart and tears overflowed from my eyes, I looked up at my mommy’s equally wet face and open arms. She consolingly murmured that my ‘BRO-DAD’ was going to play my dad and I would never have to go where I didn’t want to or was not wanted. I knew then that I was loved and nothing else mattered. Life may be an exam where the questions are unknown but with the kind of circle of love I was living in, any exam that life gave me could be solved……… without TEARS!!!!!